Tank

Tank (Ultra Tank shown)The Game: Two players each control a fearsome armored fighting vehicle on a field of battle littered with obstacles. The two tanks pursue each other around the screen, trying to line up the perfect shot without also presenting a perfect target if they miss. In accordance with the laws of ballistics and mass in the universe of Saturday morning cartoons, a tank hit by enemy fire is bounced around the screen, into nearby wall or mines, spinning at a very silly velocity, and battle begins anew. (Kee Games [Atari], 1974)

Memories: In the early 1970s, arcade distribution was a closely-guarded, exclusive thing. And to an ambitious guy like Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, this represented a problem. Atari wasn’t an old-school pinball outfit like D. Gottlieb & Co. or Bally, and was bucking the system just to land a deal with regional distributors across the country anyway. The distribution system – which allowed one distributor to represent Gottlieb games exclusively in his area, while a competitor would be the only game in town for Bally/Midway fare, for example – was created in the pinball era; many arcade operators would deal exclusively with a single distributor, and of course there were franchise arcades owned by companies like Bally, such as Aladdin’s Castle. It was entirely possible, and not uncommon, to see some manufacturers represented only at one or two arcades in a given area, and their rivals represented only at others. Which was fine with pinball manufacturers, but Bushnell wanted to place Atari’s video games everywhere. Continue reading

Tennis / Hockey

TennisThe Game: Activated by leaving a cartridge out of the slot, powering the system up and pressing one of the selector keys, Tennis and Hockey are built into the system. Timed games can be selected, and the traditional rules of each sport apply. (Fairchild, 1976)

Memories: An interesting indicator of how new the idea of interchangeable cartridges were, Channel F featured two built-in games as well. If a Channel F owner bought the machine but never bothered with any of the game cartridges, he could still enjoy the console. It’s really no surprise, then, that Fairchild fell back on some standard-issue video game ideas – nothing obscure for Channel F’s built-in games. Continue reading

Thunderball!

Thunderball!The Game: It’s all the thrills of pinball, minus approximately 75% of the excitement! Use your joystick to control the plunger tension and launch your ball into play. Use the action button to pop the flippers, keeping your ball on the See the videofield and out of trouble. The bumpers and spinner score big points…well, relatively speaking. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: Ya know, I’ve always thought that video pinball was just a bad idea from start to finish. Thunderball! is very much representative of most early attempts at this doomed genre – it’s not exactly a load of fun, and not even remotely exciting. Continue reading

Targ

Targ - photo courtesy Tim SniderThe Game: You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with a bevy of robotic target vehicles – “Targs” – which are programmed to do just one thing: collide with your vehicle. You have one advantage on these decidedly mean streets, however – you can fire missiles ahead of your car (but the Targs are capable of dodging your projectiles too, so don’t get too cocky). Every once in a while, one of the impregnable blocks in the maze will disgorge a new enemy which is just a little bit faster and deadlier than the rest. Clearing the screen of Targs advances you to a new level with faster enemies – and eventually they’ll put the brakes on your attempts to survive. (Exidy, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those games that’s just emblematic of what was great about the early 80s heyday of the arcade – the graphics did what was required without a lot of embellishment, and the emphasis was on the breakneck speed of the thing. And Targ moved fast. Really fast. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestBuy this gameAs a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. See below. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Tempest is a bizarre little game to crack. Since you spend your time rolling around a vaguely tubular structure, the game is controlled with a knob only, and surprisingly, the speed with which you move the control is reflected in your onscreen speed. With some practice, Tempest was a truly addictive, engrossing game, one of the arcade’s best. Continue reading

Take The Money And Run!

Take The Money And Run!The Game: Two little white robots represent assorted economic woes, and they drain your cash rapidly if they catch up with you. The object of the game is to come out with the most money left at the end of the two-player game.

You couldn’t really do anything about the robots. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: A bizarre little maze game purporting to be a somewhat educational game about economics, Take The Money And Run! really only managed to be a bit confusing. Sometimes it seemed as though Magnavox’s game group couldn’t really figure out if it wanted to come down on the “edu” or the “tainment” side of edutainment. Continue reading

Thief

ThiefThe Game: You’re on the run from the long arm of the law, and the police radio dispatchers have put an an APB out for you. Money lines the city streets, and you must evade the cop cars and stash away all the cash until the screen is cleared. Four special items in the corners of the screen enable you to turn the table on your pursuers and temporarily eliminate them from the screen – but they’ll be back. If the police cars catch you, you have the right to remain silent; if they catch your last getaway car, you have the right to see “game over” on the screen. (Pacific Novelty, 1981)

See the videoMemories: 1981 was the summer of Pac-Man Fever in the United States. Midway, who licensed the game from Namco, had to contend with any number of challenges to its sovereignty as the sole distributor of Pac-Man, from bootlegged rip-off ROMs such as Pirhana to games like Thief which, while they didn’t pirate the actual game code of Pac-Man, certainly lifted its basic game play concept wholesale. These were the days before the video game industry was bogged down by lawsuits for every day of the week. It was a wild frontier, and it seems somehow appropriate that Thief fits in that genre. Continue reading

Tac-Scan

Tac-ScanThe Game: Commanding a fleet of ships, you use their combined firepower to wipe out an onslaught of alien ships (which, perhaps not at all surprisingly, are firing back at you). It only takes one hit to lose one of your own fleet, and when your fleet is completely wiped out, the game is over. Until then, do as much damage to the enemy armada as you can. (Sega/Gremlin, 1981)

Memories: I always admired games with novel ways of counting down how many “lives” a player had left until his quarter was declared a total loss. Moon Cresta had a three-stage rocket which could be destroyed stage-by-stage, and Lock ‘n’ Chase featured a getaway car full of extra crooks that could be deployed one-by-one into its Pac-Man-like maze. Tac-Scan gave the player one fleet – and only one fleet – of ships that would be wiped out as the game progressed. When the entire fleet was wiped out, thus ended the game. Continue reading

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Ah, the driving game wars of the early 1980s. Remember when everyone was ga-ga over this game and Pole Position, which were both essentially very pretty remakes of Atari’s old Night Driver game? Though, to be quite honest, both of the early 80’s driving game staples were graphically impressive. Turbo reached the checkered flag first, though – Pole Position was released the following year in the U.S. Continue reading

Tennis

TennisBuy this gameThe Game: Is it Pong anthropomorphized, or is it tennis rehumanized? Two people dash back and fourth across a court, making every attempt to intercept the incoming ball and slap it back into their opponent’s side of the net. As with so many other things in life, he who drops the ball suffers severely. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Doesn’t really matter how you dress it up: it’s all tennis. Only Activision‘s Tennis cartridge, programmed by Alan Miller, was the first time someone had tried to make the tennis players look like…well, tennis players, at least on the VCS. As one of the very first titles released by Activision, Tennis broke graphical ground, but kept game play simple, often simulating an existing sport or activity – the salad days of innovation with games like Pitfall! were still to come. Continue reading

Taxman

TaxmanThe Game: As a round white creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, and apparently somehow tied to the Internal Revenue Service, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful See the videomonsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and, after spending some noncorporeal time floating around and contemplating taxation without representation, return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (H.A.L. Labs, 1981)

Memories: Alas, the folly of H.A.L. Labs and Taxman. Clearly a copy of Pac-Man – with only the names changed – this game was crippled by keyboard controls that were counterintuitive even back then. The sad thing is, given the graphics and sound limitations of the Apple II, the rest of the game was stellar, a near-perfect port of Pac-Man. Continue reading

TI Invaders

TI InvadersThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a quartet of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth…it’s all over. (Texas Instruments, 1981)

Memories: A straightforward, no-frills take on Space Invaders, TI Invaders trumped just about every other home computer version in terms of faithfulness to the source material. Continue reading

Tranquility Base

Tranquility BaseThe Game: You are go for landing on the moon – only the moon isn’t there to make it easy for you. Craggy mountains and craters make it difficult for you to find one of the few safe landing spots on the surface, and even when you’re See the videoaligned above level ground, your fuel is running out fast. Do you have the right stuff that it’ll take before you can take one giant leap? (Bill Budge, 1981 / re-released by Eduware in 1984)

Memories: This game was one of the earliest efforts by a budding Apple II programmer named Bill Budge, before he achieved fame as the author of Pinball Construction Set. At the time, Budge was experimenting with interchangeable modules that could be slotted into the code of any number of games, including one for smoothly rotating 3-D wireframe objects – well, smoothly where the Apple II was concerned. The result was this unforgiving homage to Atari’s cult coin-op Lunar Lander. Continue reading

Time Tunnel

Time TunnelThe Game: As the conductor of a time-traveling train, you must find and collect your passenger cars in the present day, move on to the near future to pull up to several stations and fill those cars with time travelers, and then deposit See the videothem at various attractions in the distant future. That would be difficult enough to do without running out of fuel, but you also have to contend with space creatures and repeatedly avoid collisions with a competing train by controlling the switches on the tracks. (1982, Taito)

Memories: This exceedingly obscure Taito arcade game is cute and innovative – it’s certainly not another riff on Loco-Motion, that’s for sure. But if you don’t remember it, there may be a reason – it takes several minutes to play a single game. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the very nature of arcade games is to vanquish as many challengers as possible, and quickly – the more people come back to play an arcade game, the more money it earns, so conventional wisdom among arcade operators in the 1980s was to dispense quickly with any game that didn’t chew through players’ quarters quickly. A game that took a long time to play had limited earning potential, three words that could get an arcade game scrapped, sent back to the distributor, or converted into another game in record time. Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotBuy this gameThe Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was a time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through dozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: One of Konami’s best-ever coin-ops, Time Pilot is an outstanding combination of addictive game play and the concept of “wanting to see what’s on the next level.” If you’re good enough, you get to see what kind of aircraft you’ll be up against in the next time period. Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Tutankham

TutankhamThe Game: As an intrepid, pith-helmeted explorer, you’re exploring King Tut’s catacombs, which are populated by a variety of killer bugs, birds, and other nasties. You’re capable of firing left and right, but not vertically – so any oncoming threats from above or below must be outrun or avoided. Warp portals will instantly whisk you away to other parts of the maze (though this doesn’t necessarily mean safer). Gathering all of the treasures and keys will allow you to open the vault at the end of each level…which leads to the next, and even more difficult level. It’s like The Mummy, only much more entertaining. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: Konami/Stern’s 1982 maze shooter was about as different from its antecedents (Berzerk and Frenzy) as possible, and was still fun. The one thing that always got people in the arcades, especially on their first attempt at playing the game, was the fact that it was impossible to shoot vertically – firing could be controlled by a second joystick limited to left-right movement. Continue reading

Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these See the videoshort-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)

Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Continue reading

  • IP Disclaimer

    All game names, terminology, logos, screen shots, box art, and all related characters and placenames are the property of the games' respective intellectual property holders. The articles herein are not intended to infringe upon their copyright in any way. The author(s) make no attempt - in using the names described herein - to supercede the copyrights of the copyright holders, nor are these articles officially sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by the games' creators or publishers.